In mid-May, House Republicans introduced an immigration bill dubbed the Border Security Act of 2023. Also known as H.R.2, it gained the support of nearly all caucus members (217), while two Republicans joined the Democrats in voting against it. Pending Senate review, another immigration bill, this time with bipartisan writers, will try to make its way into the Lower House.
The Dignity Act of 2023 was drafted by Congresswomen Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX) to provide a "comprehensive" solution to the current immigration system. According to the Democrat, this is an "opportunity through the middle to come up with a solution."
The 500-page text was announced on Tuesday, May 23, and was designed to include proposals from both sides of the aisle, similar to what Tom Thillis and Kyrsten Sinema attempted in December 2022.
"Two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, have decided to work on one of the most divisive issues in this country: immigration. Who wants to do that? Very few people. But we are doing it," Salazar said of the bill, adding that she plans to meet with congressional leaders to move her bill forward.
🚨 @RepEscobar y yo presentamos hoy una nueva y bipartidista Ley DIGNIDAD para resolver nuestra crisis de Inmigración.
Nuestro proyecto de ley da DIGNIDAD a:
➡️ Patrulla Fronteriza que necesita nuestro apoyo
➡️ Creadores de empleo que necesitan trabajadores
➡️ Estadounidenses… pic.twitter.com/EXWL47pEvO
— Rep. María Elvira Salazar (@RepMariaSalazar) May 23, 2023
What does the Dignity Act of 2023 do?
The bipartisan bill has Republican and Democratic items of interest, so it is destined to be, as James Baker III would say, legislation "everyone can live with."
Specifically, it would create a path to citizenship for Dreamers, that is, undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. It would also establish a program to allow other undocumented immigrants to legally live and work in the country if they pay restitution.
The last time Congress passed legislation creating a path to legal status for a large population of undocumented immigrants was in 1986.
In turn, it would guarantee a substantial investment in border security technology and infrastructure, such as hiring more agents, more money for the Border Patrol, and a complete modernization of the country's "ports of entry." It would be $10 billion over five years, earmarked for expanding vehicle, freight and pedestrian inspection lanes. However, they clarify that the wall construction initiated in the 1990s and promoted by the Trump Administration will not continue to be financed.
Like H.R.2, it would implement the E-Verify system through the Legal Workforce Act, phasing in its use by businesses.
"As opposed to previous measures requiring E-Verify, the Dignity Act grants undocumented individuals in the country legal status, including work authorization, which would be implemented alongside E-Verify, to ensure an even and fair transition without adversely impacting immigrant workers," reads the bill's summary.
Decades of poorly addressing our immigration system, actively shrinking legal pathways, and failing to get beyond paralyzing gridlock have created a humanitarian crisis.
The Dignity Act of 2023 addresses this complex issue in a way that preserves our country's values. pic.twitter.com/8NoLYO41us
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) May 23, 2023
In this area, the legislation would codify a program to grant work permits to the spouses of certain high-skilled visa holders and prevent their children from "aging out" of their parents' applications due to processing delays.
In addition, it would allocate millions of dollars to speed up visa processing and create the position of an Immigration Agency Coordinator who would make recommendations to oversee and improve the processing of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) functions and the Departments of State and Labor.
Regarding asylum applications, it will order the construction of humanitarian campuses at the border. They will "offer services to potential asylum seekers or economic migrants" and "offer pre-screening for asylum eligibility. If found eligible for asylum," they will be issued a humanitarian visa to travel to the United States to be able to resolve their application.
Once in the country, they will receive a 72-hour rest period, then undergo an asylum eligibility assessment within 15 days. Those who pass this initial assessment may obtain final approval of their asylum application by an immigration officer within 45 days, while those who fail may appeal and request a review by another officer.
The legislation also provides for the creation of five additional processing centers in countries in Latin America for migrants to be pre-screened for potential asylum eligibility.